Letters

Grandmas towards peace!

Asked by: L, Lenox, USA

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet

L, Lenox, USA

A poem to celebrate bubbies, abuelas, grandmas all over the world, and encouragement to be involved in work toward peace and abolishment of hunger and poverty.

L


K:

Hello friend,

Thank you for this wonderful question. When I was a child, my mother became devoted to a community of radical Catholic nuns who were deeply involved in protesting the Rocky Flats plutonium trigger site at Rocky Flats, outside Boulder, CO. I spent many weekends protesting, sitting on the tracks, and making human chains to block the trucks from entering the facility. These women, now well into their 80s, continue their efforts to fight for peace and justice. They are my grandmothers.

When I think of these powerful women, I also think about the poetry books that were on my mother’s bookshelf when I was a child. These were the kinds of books that the nuns used to inspire homilies for their backyard masses: Grace Paley, Maya Anjelou, June Jordan, Denise Levertov, May Sarton…so many strong women writing poems to inspire activism and promote peace. 

I have no doubt that these books are the reason that I became a poet myself. I turned more towards modernist lineages of feminist poetics transmitted through poets including Anne Waldman, Cecilia Vicuña, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis. These and other fierce older women – many now grandmothers themselves –  continue to raise their voices through poetry and art to speak truth to power. 

As I am now traveling without my books, I am writing this letter to you from a public library in Reading, MA. It’s so sad to see the shelves only ¼ full and everyone on their computers. They don’t have many poetry books here but I did find one of Grace Paley’s later-in-life books called Begin Again (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001). Here is a poem for you and all the bubbies, abuelas, and grandmas who are right now facing fears of growing older all while continuing to fight the good fight and not forget to dance: 

Responsibility

Frightened   fearful   afraid
    older  waking in fear
healthy    feet okay  appetite
      only teeth half gone   wrists
strong     night love    waking in 
      fear   older    old  nothing
ahead     glad to say ah!
       willing     working   tired
laugh!    dance after supper
     knees useful     love   waking
afraid   bad news    friends old
    sickness     becoming well 
an occupation a
    hope against age

-Grace Paley

Also in this book is a poem my mother and the nuns absolutely loved called “Responsibility.” Perhaps you know it too?

Responsibility

It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
              giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
              also leaflets they can hardly bear to look at
              because of the screaming rhetoric
It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy to hang out and
              prophesy
It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes
It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory
              towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C
              and buckwheat fields and army camps
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the
              Quakers say
It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the
              powerless
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
              freedom without justice and this means economic
              justice and love justice
It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original
              and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it
              on in the way storytellers decant the story of life
There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no
              freedom unless
              earth and air and water continue and children
              also continue
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on
              this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
              listened to this time

-Grace Paley

Asked by: E., Somewhere, USA

Answered by: Andrew Whiteman

Asked by: Bubbles, Durban, South Africa

Answered by: Andrew Whiteman

Asked by: Anonymous, Santa Cruz, USA

Answered by: Andrew Whiteman

Asked by: Anonymous, Ontario, Canada

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet

Asked by: C.E.L., Tallinn, Estonia

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet

Asked by: T.P.L., Bakersfield, USA

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet